The company pursuing Pebble Mine saw its stock prices soar on Wednesday with the unexpected announcement from the Environmental Protection Agency that it was reopening Obama-era environmental regulations on such a project.
Bloomberg wrote of the decision as “a necessary prelude to the EPA officially lifting the restrictions later.”
The news came as a slap in the face to local tribes that have opposed the Pebble Mine over concerns that it would pose serious and irreversible damage to the local watershed and fishery. In a statement released by the United Tribes of Bristol Bay, the group said the news “comes less than two weeks after EPA’s general counsel met with community leaders in Dillingham and stated he had no intention of changing the status quo at that time.”
“This bold-faced lie was compounded today by the fact that EPA now intends to hold no public process in its deliberations to withdraw the Proposed Determination,” the group said in the statement. “Such a move not only disenfranchises the millions of people who have weighed in supporting the PD, but flies in the face of the federal government’s trust responsibility to consult with tribes on matters affecting their way of life.”
The sudden shift, though, didn’t shift the opinion of U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who opponents of the mine see as a potential ally, who released a statement saying what many leaders who’re public undecided about the mine say: That the normal permitting process should be allowed to play out. The memo that reopened the regulations also call for the EPA to utilize the Clean Water Act to become more directly involved in the permitting process. Known as “elevation,” Bloomberg explains that it can “can be used to spur negotiations over conflicting views of permitting decisions.”
“I continue to reserve judgment about the Pebble mine and am closely following the permitting process to determine whether it can avoid harming Bristol Bay’s world-class fishery,” she said. “EPA’s intent to elevate the environmental concerns for this project is the right decision and will help ensure they are fully addressed. I look forward to reviewing EPA’s comments, as well as the comments being filed by Alaskans and scientists.”
She was critical of the Obama-era restrictions placed on the mine, which were put in place in 2014 before the permitting process got underway for the project.
“I have never supported preemptive restrictions for any project in Alaska,” Murkowski said. “It is inappropriate for an agency to prejudge a project years before its developer has filed a permit application. Allowing agencies to expand their authority in this manner would be a dangerous precedent that undermines confidence in the normal, well-established permitting process.”
Why it matters
Opponents to the mine have focused much of their efforts on Murkowski as even though the delegation remains undecided on the mine, there’s little belief that U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan and U.S. Rep. Don Young will side with them over the industry.
“So instead of wasting a lot of our time hoping that he might change his mind, we just don’t expect he will. And Lisa seems like she’s going to be the person at the top that really helps move this train. If at all,” Cook Inlet Keeper spokesman Brandon Hill told Alaska Public Media in a recent story. “But we need her to… speak up.”
Murkowski told Alaska Public Media that she “wants to read the draft environmental impact statement, the scientific analysis, the criticism of ‘the science that’s out there, and not out there,’ and all the comments” before taking a position on the mind.
“There will be that point where I think that is appropriate,” she said.